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Times-Union Editorial Supporting Medical Marijuana

Editorial: A political prescription
Albany Times-Union, 5/2/14

A senator offers a compromise to break New York’s impasse on medical marijuana.

Will politicians let medical professionals make the medical decisions?

In a perfect world, politicians would leave medical decisions to doctors and other health experts. Alas, when it comes to medical marijuana, we live in an imperfect world.

It’s an issue that, in New York and many other places, is unfortunately intertwined with politics. Lawmakers continue to balance the expert opinions of the medical community and best judgments of individual physicians against political considerations, such as their own law-and-order images and fears among some of their constituents that legalizing marijuana, even for a limited and beneficial use, opens the door to full legalization and heralds the decline of civilization…

In that context, the best we can hope for, in the short run, is acceptable compromise. And a reworked bill seeks to achieve just that.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, is amending the original legislation, which essentially allowed prescribers to determine what ailments qualified for a marijuana prescription. The bill originally defined that broadly as conditions that are severely debilitating or life-threatening, including but not limited to 22 specific ailments. That “but not limited to” clause, however, was too open-ended for some lawmakers, particularly in the Republican Senate conference.

Determined to get a bill passed, Ms. Savino struck the disputed clause and added language to limit prescriptions of smokeable marijuana to people 21 and over, addressing a stated concern among some legislators about allowing underage smoking. People under 21 could, however, be prescribed extracts, vaporizable material, or products infused with marijuana.

Importantly, her amended bill would also set up an advisory committee, appointed by the governor, Legislature and attorney general. It would be made up of health care practitioners, patients or patient advocates, experts on the regulation of controlled substances for medical use, people from the medical marijuana industry, and law enforcement. It could hear appeals of patients or practitioners who are denied prescriptions or the authority to write them.

The committee’s most significant role would be to advise the state health commissioner on expanding the list of conditions for which a marijuana prescription would be allowed. The health commissioner would have the power to add conditions to the list or remove them.

While satisfying the concerns of some lawmakers that the earlier bill was too open-ended, this amended version would put the decision about the appropriate use of medical marijuana in the hands of a medical professional, not politicians. Assuming the commissioner’s job is held by a thoughtful, compassionate individual who would rely on the latest research and experience, it’s a sound approach.

The question of whether to legalize medical marijuana has for far too long been a political football. It’s time for politicians to end a game they have played as people have suffered needlessly on the sidelines.